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News|24 Oct, 2008

Valuable wetlands around the Baltic Sea still lack protection

Altja river is essential as spawning place for trout and salmon. Most of Northern Estonia rivers are rivulets hidden in lush forests. Although Altja river is in Lahemaa National Park, it is not yet protected and forest could be cut any day. Estonia

Only 3% of the area of all wetlands and inland waters around the Baltic Sea have legal protection according to the RAMSAR convention, WWF reveals in a report released today. Denmark, Estonia and Latvia are exceptions with between 7 and 20 % protected.

Over the years, wetlands have been drained for agriculture and forest production, used for peat extraction, landfills or for other kinds of exploitation and construction works. Increasingly, calls have been raised to protect and restore existing wetlands and even to recreate lost wetland areas.

“We hope this report will help decision-makers realize the importance of well-functioning wetlands”, says Lennart Gladh, Baltic Sea Coordinator of WWF Sweden. “The report also outlines where the need is most acute and what types of wetlands are most underrepresented in the present scheme”.

Wetlands are important to protect biodiversity. Many species of birds, mammals and fish are dependent on wetlands for their survival. Wetlands are also important to catch nutrients from agriculture and forestry before they reach the sea. More than half of the nutrients that cause eutrophication and algal blooms in the Baltic Sea stem from agriculture. Lately, attention has also been brought to the role of wetlands as carbon sinks, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and as protection against storms and floods, which we are likely to see more of due to climate change.

“Wetlands are the kidneys of our ecosystem”, says Lennart Gladh. “If you remove the kidneys, the patient will die. Without protection and restoration of wetlands and freshwater systems it will simply not be possible to reduce the diffuse nutrient emissions to the Baltic Sea”.

For more information:

Lennart Gladh +46 21 35 10 52 or +46 702 210 367
The full report “The representation of wetland types and species in RAMSAR sites in the Baltic Sea Catchment Area” can be downloaded from the right hand collumn of this page.

Note to editors:

The Convention on Wetlands (RAMSAR Convention) was launched in 1971 (in Ramsar, Iran) and went into force in 1975. It is a global environmental treaty aimed at “the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local, regional and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world”.

RAMSAR will hold its 10th Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties in Changwon, Republic of Korea, next week on 28 October – 4 November 2008.

A main task of the RAMSAR Convention is to list wetlands of international importance, as an incitement to assure their wise use, i.e. that “each Contracting Party shall designate suitable wetlands within their territory for inclusion in a List of Wetlands of International Importance”. Other important elements are the national commitments to ensure the wise use of wetlands and to cooperate on the international level. In order to realize the vision “to develop and maintain an international network of wetlands which are important for the conservation of global biodiversity and for sustaining human life through the ecological and hydrological functions they perform”, adopted at by the 7th meeting of the Conference of Contracting Parties (in San José, Costa Rica, 1999) the Parties have agreed on three main objectives:

  1. Establish national networks of RAMSAR Sites which fully represent the diversity of wetlands and their key ecological and hydrological functions,
  2. Contribute to maintaining global biodiversity through the designation and management of appropriate wetland sites,
  3. Foster co-operation among Contracting Parties, the Convention’s International Organization Partners, and local stakeholders in the selection, designation, and management of RAMSAR sites.

    Percentage of wetland area (in the Baltic Sea catchment area) that today are within RAMSAR sites:

Country Percentage
Denmark 20,5%
Estonia 9,0%
Latvia 7,9%
Lithuania 3,9%
Finland 3,1%
Germany 2,8%
Russia 2,5%
Sweden 2,2%
Poland 1,7%

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